Shirley Edgerton founded the R.O.P.E. program in 2010. She recognized the need for adolescent girls to develop their voices and inner selves in a single-sex, mentorship-based setting, one that was specifically designed to be nurturing, supportive and inspiring.
She saw the tremendous value of intentionally providing opportunities to interact with professional women of color, recognizing it as an essential way to ease the young women’s transition into adulthood.
The Rites of Passage and Empowerment program is a local, proven mentoring program for young women of color and young people identifying as female or non-binary. The mission of ROPE is to celebrate and honor the entry of adolescents into adulthood and provide them with skills and knowledge that they need to be successful, independent and responsible people. It is designed to help participants discover their inner voice and support all components of personal development and personal leadership.
For a decade, groups of up to 20 female high school students have met bi-weekly with a variety of experienced professionals. R.O.P.E. classes focus on exploring self-worth, building self-esteem, and developing interests. Students are encouraged to develop skills, resilience and cultural competence. They study women’s history and the arts, and attend lectures and art performances.
There is an emphasis on college awareness, college prep and college tours. Internships around the county increase participants’ exposure to career opportunities, and several R.O.P.E. members act as mentors themselves at two elementary schools and one middle school in the district. A deep investment in both service-learning and cultural exploration culminates in bi-annual mission trips to Africa.
The program is successful. The young women of R.O.P.E. graduate from high school. They steer around teen pregnancy, substance use and other problems that are persistent in their communities.
And the young women of R.O.P.E. go to college. This transition to higher learning is often a first for their families, so ROPE tracks and holds its graduates, too, supporting them emotionally and financially as they embark upon, proceed through and complete their studies. Travel expenses to and from school, dormitory supplies, living expenses, and vacation housing--these are among the types of support R.O.P.E. extends to its “graduates,” keeping a firm arm around them as they blaze an unfamiliar trail.
Support and engagement continue after college graduation as well, with a network of connections for entry into the world of work. One recent alumna, Nyanna, is an aide to Senator Elizabeth Warren; another, Kiana, is immersed in an internship with social justice activist Bryan Stevenson, founder/director of Equal Justice Initiative.
"We want to build girls up and grow young women who will come back and do the same for others," says Jean Clarke-Mitchell, one of the adult mentors for the program. Experience so far has borne this out: R.O.P.E. alums attending college return to motivate and inform the young women coming up behind them, and improve community life for all. One R.O.P.E. graduate, Anita, is the assistant manager of Pittsfield Airport, and invests her free time as a mentor with R.O.P.E.. Another, Cheyenne, can be seen in the video below, bringing inspiration to the young women coming along behind her.
For information on how you can partner with R.O.P.E. to support our young women, please click here.